While exploring the streets of Valencia, Spain awhile back, I met up with the wonderfully talented, self-taught, pioneering Spanish urban artist Germán Bel aka Fasim. We began an ongoing conversation at the time:

Where and when did you start getting up?

It was around 1984-85 in the Barcelona neighborhood of La Trinidad. I was 12-13 years old. I started with hair color sprays, colored waxes, paint brushes and any paint sprays that we found at the workers’ construction sites. Spray paint cans were very expensive back then. It was difficult to afford to buy any, although soon we learned to “lift” them without problems!

Who or what first inspired you to get up?

Back in the 80’s, we had very little information about the graffiti movement, and we were lucky that the Style Wars documentary was broadcast on television. It was very instructive; we learned a lot in one night just from watching it. The writer whose style most inspired me was Ricardo Mirando aka Seen. He was undoubtedly the graffiti king!

Have you any favorite surfaces?

All of them have their charm. Painting on large walls is very rewarding, but it is also very exhausting. I prefer painting in open places like public parks. I like the way the art in the public sphere interacts with the citizens and with the urban environment.

My current favorite surface is the canvas; I love its touch and its smell when it’s cut. It can withstand any onslaught! I also like paper. It’s the surface I use most often. It’s lightweight and allows me to generate many works in a short space of time.

What was it like back in the day in Spain?

When we started in the mid 80’s in Barcelona, there were very few tags on the street. But there were other types of writings — mostly alluding to the civil war, Franco’s dictatorship, social injustices, the nuclear threat, the armed group ETA and varied political party propaganda. It was referred to as “pintadas o las pintadas.”

A few years later, murals began to emerge from the punk scene — many related to underground comics and psychedelia. Major European influences included Miss Tic, Blek le Rat and Jef Aerosol.

Can you tell us something about the pioneers of the Barcelona urban art scene?

The pioneers of urban art in Barcelona were called ‘Los Rinos.’ They painted giant fried eggs, yogurt containers, paellas, French fries, roasted chickens, dripping spirals – all on train tracks. We found it very funny, and we spent hours sitting on the tracks, smoking and laughing, as we watched them.

Among the many crews in Barcelona were the Kukufruts, an all-girl, all-punk group. Today one of them, Pi Piquer, is a celebrated painter. The Trepax were stencil pioneers and made fascinating stencils of two and three meters. They are wonderfully impressive and, unfortunately, still not documented.

Do you prefer to paint in the street “with permission,” or would you rather do it illegally?

I come from a generation where painting with permission was frowned upon. I painted a wall in a public area in Valencia in 2010 dedicated to war victims. I had grown tired of seeing the horrible deaths and terrible atrocities on television for years. When I arrived with my ladder and paint and started to work, a police car stopped me. But with the help of some neighbors who defended me, I was able to continue. When I finished the wall a few weeks later, I prepared a series of reports that were published in many different cities around the world.

I was proud of what I had accomplished. I had painted a wall with a theme of political and social criticism in the center of Valencia, with no budget and without any permission and with some personal risk. And I was able to promote it around the world. Today the wall is a classic – without the support of any institution.

How did your family feel about what you are doing?

Well, I come from a family that had disintegrated. My life has been somewhat like Huckleberry Finn’s! I ended up living with my maternal grandparents, who lived in a suburb infested with heroin addicts. Its main inhabitants were Andalusian immigrants, with huge social problems.

Although my grandparents liked to see what I painted, they did not perceive it as something positive. They looked favorably on such workers as laborers, receptionists, mechanics… But to be a poet or painter in such an environment was almost a disgrace and a possible death sentence! They believed that one did not earn money with painting — that it was something for troubadours, bohemians or misfits.

They did come to accept it with resignation. Today it is different. Many people come to see my work in exhibitions or on the street. And I am sure that my grandparents, somewhere in the cosmos, would be very happy with my achievements.

What percentage of your time is dedicated to art?

From the time I get up to the time I go to bed. It’s not my job; it’s my life.

What are some of your other interests?

Literature is another great passion. I am a member of INDAGUE (the Spanish Association of Researchers and Disseminators of Graffiti and Urban Art) and I participated in a conference with Fernando Figueroa. More recently, I’ve been preparing some very funny, pictorial literary cut-ups, fusing elements of crime novels, poetry and surreal stories. It’s about the jungle, snake men, talking tigers…. It’s my first foray into literature and I like its subversive, fantastical style. I also love cooking. I love to cook when I have time. It relaxes me and I can disconnect from everything. I love to prepare new dishes.

In New York, there is often a divide between graffiti writers and street artists. Have you any thoughts about that?

I am an artist who has come to painting through tagging. Graffiti helped me to free myself from a very distressing situation of living in a very difficult neighborhood. It was the escape valve. The streets can teach you a vandal-like creative discipline that can move you in the direction of fine art. Tagging is a first contact with artistic creativity.

A few years after I started getting up on the streets, I began to paint. A turning point was my visit to JonOne‘s studio in Paris in the legendary Hôpital éphémère. Jon had original paintings by artists from all over the world including many from New York — like Rammellzee, A-One, Lady Pink, Crash, Futura2000… He showed me books by Basquiat and Miquel Barceló. Walking around his house was like visiting museum. I came to understand the relationship between tagging, graffiti, street art, urban art and fine art.

Nowadays, anyone can buy spray paint, paint a bunch of hearts in an alley, take a picture, upload it to social networks and say he is a street artist. He does this without any threat of arrest — just to be cool, to be trendy. But what he is doing is trivializing the entire movement. He is not a “street artist.” He is just a tool of capitalism.

What about cultural influences?

I am very interested in different cultures, and I have many cultural influences. Art is what survives as a testimony to fallen tyrants, kings, empires, dictatorships, dogmas and religions. What remains is the work of artists, of visionaries and poets, of craftsmen who shaped the ideas of their time. I study art every day, and even when I am studying history or archeology, I always encounter art. Among my many interests is Deir-el Medina, the royal artisan village of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. These humble artisans who lived in adobe houses crafted many of the incredible works that fill today’s museums.

Today I am more influenced and inspired by my culture — the millenary culture of the Mediterranean — than by all the other modern or contemporary western influences. It is the source of all the elements that make up civilization: architecture, music, painting and sculpture, poetry, philosophy, astronomy and more.

Do you have a formal art education?

I am what others label as “self-taught,” as I study on my own every day — away from the influences of the art establishment. For several months in the early 90’s, I studied painting at the Cucurulla Academy in Barcelona, where we copied natural models and fashioned boring plaster sculptures. My most distinct memory is of a very young, thin model — a heroin addict whose body was filled with bruises. She would fall asleep between poses, and then she would wake up and apologize.

But I didn’t stay in school. I preferred visiting galleries and museums. My favorite gallery was the Joan Gaspar Gallery. It was almost always empty, and there I found original and serial works of great quality by the hands of: Picasso, Braque, Miró, Masson, Clavé, Tàpies, Calder, Viladecans, Mitoraj…. For me it was as exciting as entering the Cave of Altamira or Lascaux. Silently facing the works of great, internationally-recognized modern and contemporary creators was my first and my best school. For a young painter, there is no better school than to witness and face these works close-up in museums and galleries. I also read extensively at the time. They were very intense years.

Do you work with a sketch in hand or do you just let it flow?

It depends on what I want to do. In general, I’m always well-organized. When I paint a large-scale mural, I come prepared with a gridded sketch and all of the paint that I’ve chosen carefully with a color chart. When I am going to make illegal pieces on walls, I come prepared to execute them quickly. When I was younger, I used to almost always improvise, but with age I have become more disciplined. Wherever I work, though, I also let the unexpected happen, as that is part of the creative process — even when we think we have lost control.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished work?

With the works I show, I am either half-satisfied or quite satisfied. As a general rule, I don’t show on social media or exhibit something I don’t like. I am quite critical of my painting, and I can repeat the painting process on the same canvas many times until it takes on an unexpected meaning. Life is a mystery, and painting reflects that mystery to us, just as the water reflects the image of Narcissus. While painting, I often become very fond of a piece — falling in love with it or maintaining a deep and ephemeral romance with it during the process.

How has the Covid pandemic affected you and how has it affected your work as an artist?

As you know, it has been a very strong, transformative experience on a planetary level. All our lives have changed radically, and together we are now experiencing a post-traumatic stress, unlike anything we’ve known. I have had to adapt to many changes – some very deep – quickly. I stopped spray painting on the streets in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. I am more concerned now about the harm that sprays can cause the environment. I could do without sprays, but I could not do without painting or drawing. I am horrified by the idea of a world destroyed by selfishness, so I have decided to stop and wait a bit.

I’ve also perceived changes in the direction of my work. I’m now working on themes that a few years ago I would not have imagined. My current series of paintings is tentatively titled “Erased Landscapes.” It has many meanings. It is a metaphor expressing nature’s outrage at us for disregarding our environment, but it also a reference to the mania or obsession to erase all urban graphic signs in big cities, leaving in its wake a trail of strange erased landscapes. It is also a nod to the idea that a canvas or a painting is a window to another reality, the window within the window.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1-3, 5, & 6 Courtesy of Fasim; 3 Jordi Arques; 4 Lois Stavsky  

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Featuring dozens of works in a range of media by the late legendary Jean-Michel Basquiat, along with artworks by several of his key contemporaries, “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” continues at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts through July 25. The image featured above, “Hollywood Africans,” fashioned in 1983 by Basquiat with acrylic and oilstick on canvas, portrays the artist, Rammellzee and Toxic, as it documents the time the three artists spent together in Los Angeles.  Several more of the exhibition’s highlights — as seen on my recent visit –follow:

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anthony Clarke (aka A-One), 1985, Acrylic, oil and collage on wood

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ero, 1984, Acrylic, oilstick and Xerox collage on paper

The late multi-media artist and hip-hop pioneer Rammellzee, Super Robber, 1985, Mixed media on canvas

NYC graffiti pioneer and acclaimed fine artist Futura, Untitled, 1982, Spray paint and marker on paper

Keith Haring and LA2 collaboration, Suit for Madonna, 1984 Acrylic on leather

Legendary graffiti pioneer Lady Pink and neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer collaboration, Tear Ducts Seem to Be a Grief Provision, 1983-84, Spray paint on canvas

A tribute to those who “fueled new directions in fine art, design, and music, driving the now-global popularity of hip-hop culture,”  “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation”  is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue produced by MFA Publications and edited by co-curators Liz Munsell, the MFA’s Lorraine and Alan Bressler Curator of Contemporary Art, and Greg Tate.

Photos of artworks: Lois Stavsky

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Timed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, the first three You Are Not Alone murals surfaced across New York City in May, 2019. And this past month, the project has gone global with 14 new murals — seven in NYC, two in Texas, and one each in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Brazil and India. Each of the artists interpreted the message, You Are Not Alone, in a distinct visual style using a color palette of black, white, grey and yellow.

Conceived and curated by designer, illustrator and muralist Annica Lydenberg aka Dirty Bandits and Samantha Schutz, mental health advocate and acclaimed author of the anxiety disorder memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, this timely project reminds us that we are all connected through our common humanity and, therefore, never alone. The mural featured above was painted by the award-winning, Brooklyn-based artist and designer Jason Naylor earlier this month in Bushwick. Several more images of murals that have recently surfaced near and far follow:

 Brooklyn-based product designer and visual artist Adam Fu in the Bronx

Brooklyn-based creative director, designer and muralist Dirty Bandits in Chinatown, NYC

NJ-based designer and calligrapher Rodney Ibarra aka Jexpo76 in Hammonton, NJ

Texas-based graffiti artists and designers Laced and Found in Austin, Texas 

Brazilian designer and visual artist Cristina Pagnoncelli in Curitiba, Brazil

And do remember, “You are not alone!” If you or someone you care about is in need of support or information, help is available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m., ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

All photos courtesy You Are Not Alone;  photo credit for third mural — just a spectator

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Based in Manizales, Colombia, Sebastian Jiménez aka SEPC first hit the walls of his hometown with letters 12 years ago. “I never would have imagined at that time that my entire life would revolve around urban art,” he relates. “My whole life is now focused on going out and leaving a little of my art everywhere that is possible.”

The image featured above was recently painted by SEPC in his hometown of Manizales. Characteristic of the artist’s public art, it is wonderfully photorealistic with elements reflecting his career as a visual designer. And like most of his street art, it is specific to the culture of its particular site.

Several more images of SEPC‘s artworks follow:

Painted in La Dorada, Caldas for Festival Territorio Urbano with the support of Fundación REDES, 2020

Painted in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 2018

Painted in Manizales, 2018

Painted in Bahai, Brazil for Festival Bahia de Todas as Cores, 2018

And like so many street artists across the globe, SEPC has paid also homage to several NYC-based hip-hop legends. The following mural featuring Nas was painted last year in SEPC’s hometown, Manizales.

SEPC will be visiting NYC for the first time in mid-June and is seeking opportunities to share his talents with us. The artist can be contacted at juan.jimenez.dv@gmail.com.

All photos courtesy of the artist

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For the past several years, the corner of 43rd Avenue & 38th Street in Sunnyside Queens — penned The Great Wall of Savas — has hosted a varied range of intriguing artworks. The mural pictured above was recently painted by NYC-based Argentine artist Sonni in dedication to his new wife. Several more images of mural art captured in this location follow:

Long Island-based Phetus

Manhattan-based My Life in Yellow

Moscow-born, NYC-based Urban Russian Doll

NYC-based Dirk

NYC-based Soho Renaissance Factory artist Konstance Patton

Lima, Peru-based Monks

Now a twin of the Akumal Arts Festival walls, each time an Akumal artist gets up at Savas, Thirdrail Art, the project’s curator, sends a donation to Akumal to support the local community.

Photo credit: Lois Stavsky

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Hosting a striking array of graffiti styles, the walls off the Broadway Junction subway station teem with sumptuous colors and seductive rhythms.  The image featured above is the work of Long Island-bred artist WERD. Several more images captured on our recent visit to “the juncyard” follow:

The masterful Noah TFP

The inimitable Ceos

The dexterous Rezor — who regularly brings his curatorial skills to these walls

Stylemaster Such

Veteran writer Doc TC5

Classic writer Wore One

Photo credits:  1 & 2 A. Candela; 3-7 Lois Stavsky

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NYC-based Australian-American multidisciplinary artist and muralist Charlie Hudson has been exploring the city by foot over this past year. Inspired by these walks, he has crafted an extraordinary range of geometric artworks on wood. With their seductive colors, alluring patterns and tantalizing textures, they are at once gritty and elegant. Several works captured on our recent visit to Charlie’s solo exhibition, Points of Distraction, at Ki Smith Gallery follow:

Elevated Trains, 2021, Acrylic and oil on wood, 38 x 6 x 4 in.

Subway Over Bridge, 2021, Acrylic and oil on wood, 19 x 51 x 3.5 in.

Vanishing Point, 2021, Acrylic and oil on wood, 22 x 15 x 3 in.

Orange Mist, 2021, Acrylic and oil on wood, 14 x 14 x 3 in.

Sun Spot, 2021, Acrylic and oil on wood, 52 x 27 x 3 in.

Small segment of installation of sculptural paintings

Located at 197 E 4th Street, Ki Smith Gallery is open Wednesday – Sunday, 12:30 – 6:30 p.m.  You can also book an appointment for a private viewing here.  Points of Distraction continues through May 9.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4-6 Lois Stavsky; 3 & 7 Sara C Mozeson

Note: The first image features the artist standing outside Ki Smith Gallery .

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The rotating walls that surface in the East Village and in Chinatown — under the curatorial direction of street art aficionado and photographer Ben L. — feature some of NYC’s most delightfully expressive murals. Largely painted by local artists, the walls occasionally showcase the talents of those visiting from abroad, as well. The image featured above is the work of Beijing-born, Brooklyn-based artist and Thrive Collective member, Peach Tao. Several more murals currently on view at East 2nd Street off First Avenue follow:

Lima, Peru-based Monks

Argentine-American artist Ramiro Davaro-Comas in collaboration with Outer Source on the First Ave. Laundry Center shutter 

Moscow-born, NYC-based Urban Russian Doll

New York-based photorealistic muralist BKFoxx

NYC-based Early Riser

Photo credits: 1-3, 5 & 6 Lois Stavsky; 4 Sara C Mozeson

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Not only was the late legendary writer Fernando Miteff — known to most of us as Nic 707 — a master of multiple styles, but he was also the founder and curator of one of NYC’s most distinctly impressive public art projects, InstaFame Phantom Art.

Beginning in 2009 until his untimely death last year from Covid, Nic 707 regularly rode the MTA trains with the singular mission of transforming their interiors into a one-of-a-kind pop-up gallery in motion. Having accompanied him on many of these adventures, I witnessed first-hand not only his boundless passion for graffiti, but his deep love for all art, as he showcased contemporary artworks in styles ranging from figurative to abstract, along with his and other writers’ tags, throw-ups and pieces.

And the response of the train riders who viewed Nic’s pop-up shows was almost always overwhelmingly positive. Many posed questions to Nic as they photographed his installations, and in response, Nic would graciously school them on the history of graffiti, its impact on contemporary art, the personal histories of the varied artists and more.

InstaFame Phantom Art (Volume 1): The Nic 707 Collection (NYC Transit Exhibition Catalog) is the perfect tribute to Nic — a paean to his creative energy and vision — and a gift to us all. Penned by his brother, Karim Miteff, it not only features dozens of images of works by Nic and by several other artists that rode the trains between 2009-2013, but it tells the story of graffiti and of Nic’s particular circumstances, including his 27-year hiatus from the culture. Much, in fact, is presented in Nic’s own words, as told to Karim.

Among the key subjects the book covers — in addition to Nic 707’s story — are: the tools writers use, the evolution of their styles, their code of ethics and the development of crews. Nic 707 was, in fact, the founder and first President of the Bronx-based OTB Crew.

And featured, of course, are dozens of images of variations of Nic’s iconic Kilroy character, described by the artist as “a kind of an entity…a presence. Even though he has no eyes, he sees all…but he doesn’t judge. He promotes love and holds the key to a silent and ancient wisdom. He represents the potential for alien intervention to help save mankind.”

Nic 707 was one-of-a-kind. He was, as his brother accurately describes him, a “Style Master. Visionary. Time Traveler.”

Writing about InstaFame Phantom Art back in 2015 in The New York Times, David Gonzalez described the project as one “with hundreds of one-of-a-kind panels that would be the envy of any urban gallery.”

I am already looking forward to the second volume of InstaFame Phantom Art: The Nic 707 Collection (NYC Transit Exhibition Catalog). 

Images:

1 Book cover, 2021

2 Black Star Bumper Car on the IRT 4 train, 2013

3 Lollipop$, 2012

4 Souls in Transit, 2013

5 Choose Your Palette, 2012

Photos 1, 3-5 Courtesy Karim Miteff; Photo 2, Lois Stavsky

Book Review by Lois Stavsky

Note: The book is available here.

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Lower East Side native Marcus Glitteris is not only an intriguing self-taught artist but a passionate curator, as well.  Largely  influenced by New York City’s Downtown club scene, he teems with the energy that permeated it. Earlier this week, I stopped by Home Grown, an exhibit he curated at Village Works in the East Village, and posed a few questions to him:

Can you tell us something about your vision in curating this exhibit?

Its main focus is to showcase the varied works of a wide range of artists who live or have lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side or East Village.

And what about this wonderful space?

Village Works is the name of this new gallery. Designated specifically as a space to showcase NYC artists, it sells rare art books, as well as art. My friend, Joe Sheridan, is the creative director here. We know each other from the night life scene, but since, Joe has since ventured into the the artist community and invited me to curate here. This space used to be an architectural firm.

What about the show’s title? It does seem appropriate now that I know a bit of the backstory. 

“Home Grown” is a term lots of New Yorkers, especially those in urban neighborhoods, grew up with. It references the distinct qualities and influences of a particular neighborhood. In my case — and in the case of many artists in this show — it is the Lower East Side.

The range of artists here is so varied — in terms of their backgrounds and choice of media. How did you choose which artists to include in this exhibition? 

It’s a community. Many I’ve known for a long time. Others I met and got to know in varied circumstances. Carol Fassler, for example, is a photographer I met on many occasions over the years on Thursday nights at the New Museum. And then there are artists who were new to me…whom I didn’t know anything about. Nora Timbila, for example, was introduced to me by Joe. When I curate, I like to mix up shows with artists who are established, artists who are emerging and artists who’ve never had a show before.

What were some of the challenges you faced in seeing this exhibit through?

Working with artists in any industry can be complex. Some of the artists — especially the more established ones  — ask, “Who else is in the show?” or “Where is the venue?”  So I have to deal with that. And it can get stressful!  To be a successful curator, though, I have to admit that I’m not always right, and yet still set boundaries. A curator has to have patience, compassion and love.

How was the response to this particular exhibit?

It was wonderful! The energy was great, as were all the people who came by.

Congratulations!  I especially loved discovering artists in Home Grown who were new to me.

Note:  Home Grown continues at Village Works, 90 East 3rd Street, through next Wednesday, April 14. Text 917.749.0319 to find out if the gallery is open or to make an appointment.

Images:

1 Optimo NYC 

2 Marcus Glitteris

3 Marina Reiter

4 BC1 NBA

5 Nora Timbila

6 A. Candela

7 As seen from the outside — Renda Writer and Hektad

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1, 4, 5 & 7 Lois Stavsky; 2, 3 & 6 A. Candela

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